Jamie Oliver: School Food Revolution or Reality TV Rubbish?


It’s time to talk about the Limey lad’s Appalachian invasion.

Unless you’ve had your head in a school lunch garbage bin for the last week surely you know Brit wonder boy Jamie Oliver has landed on American shores to save our children from the food we feed them.

The kind of food mind, the mopped-topped megastar tells us, that is killing our kids — or at least leading them to an early grave.

In case you missed him on Oprah, Letterman, or Hockenberry, Jamie jetted into Huntington, West Virginia, to film Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution for ABC. (You can catch the first two episodes on Hulu.)

The six-part series is a hybrid of two similar programs Oliver fronted in England, Jamie’s School Dinners and Jamie’s Ministry of Food, the former resulted in sweeping school lunch reform, though even the mastermind himself admits it’s not yet a resounding success.

Stylistically the shows couldn’t be more different, if reflective of their respective cultures. Think British public television documentary versus American network TV reality pap. Food Revolution is produced by American Idol‘s Ryan Seacrest.

Why West Virginia? Two years ago Huntington got gonged as the country’s unhealthiest area, courtesy of CDC data. That means fattest. Let’s not sugar coat things, most obese, and sickest on such measures as heart disease and diabetes. But Huntington is just the first stop in Oliver’s national nutrition mission. He wants nothing short of radical reform on Americans’ plates.

The celebrity chef favors fresh food from scratch or stripping food down to its bare essentials, as he likes to say, (hence his Naked Chef nickname), versus reheated edible food products. (Did you see the footage of the packaged “mashed potato pearls” served at school? Scary stuff.)

His premise is, as you might expect, a simple one. If you teach people to cook a handful of dishes, you’ll get them hooked on healthy eating.

Locals chafe at the TED prize award-winner‘s campaign for change. The cultural disconnects are cringe worthy. The thirtysomething refers to the middle-aged school cafeteria staff as “lunch ladies,”  “darlin'” and “sweetheart”. Jamie is gobsmacked that school kids eat pizza for breakfast. For breakfast! And aren’t given knives and forks to eat their food at lunch. Those American barbarians!

Here’s what I know: The show is entertaining, if scripted, garnered good ratings, and generated big buzz. It’s prime fodder on foodie listservs, such as the Association for the Study of Food and Society‘s, where one academic wag likened canned and processed food to masturbation. (“It’s easy, convenient and gets the job done….but I’m guessing most people, given the opportunity, would prefer the messy, complicated, time-consuming, delightful option of the real thing.”)

But I digress. Stripped of its sensationalism, Food Revolution is simply sad. There’s the pastor flicking through photos of townsfolk he’s buried prematurely due to dietary decisions. There’s the super-sized family fueled only on fat-fryer food. There are school kids who eat chicken nuggets for lunch AND dinner and can’t identify ANY fresh vegetables when Jamie quizzes them in class.

Here’s what I’m not sure of: Once Oliver wings his way home to his own family, will his food revolution make any difference to those he set out to help Stateside? Or will things stay the same here while the self-described hyperactive, dyslexic chef jumps to his next pet project under the umbrella of his multimillion dollar international food emporium?

Here’s what I want to find out: What do American school food advocates such as, oh, I don’t know, Michelle Obama, Alice Waters, and Ann Cooper, for starters, think about a foreigner getting his hands dirty in the American school food debate?

Debra Eschmeyer of the National Farm to School Network noted in a recent Civil Eats story that absent from Food Revolution to date is any acknowledgment of the homegrown edible educational experiments happening around the country. Responding to such criticism, the program’s producers have encouraged viewers to share video of local food heroes here.

Few can argue with the fact that Jamie is cooking up trouble at a critical time.  Congress is considering legislation to toughen rules that regulate school lunch and increase funding for better food. The First Lady just launched her Let’s Move initiative. A school teacher in middle America is garnering gobs of interest for her blog documenting the horrors of U.S. school lunch.

Jamie Oliver reminds me a bit of another successful British TV export. Bob the Builder anyone? Parents may recall the plucky truck driver’s catchphrase: Can we do it? Yes we can!

So, what say you readers: Can the cheeky British chef take on American agribusiness behemoths whose food products fill school freezers across this great land and tackle Byzantine government bureaucracy that threatens to stymie school lunch reform — not to mention address most Americans’ undying love affair with fast food?

Will Jamie Oliver win the Battle of the Bulge?

And can the school food revolution be televised?

Stay tuned.

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76 Responses to “Jamie Oliver: School Food Revolution or Reality TV Rubbish?”

  1. Kris Says:

    The show is a little more canned than I like, but reality TV seems to be what America thrives on. If this show – canned or not – can bring a little more awareness to the general public, then I’m all for it. Personally, I was shocked at the USDA requirements for school lunches, so I learned something, too!

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Kris, I know what you mean about the USDA nonsense. All that stuff about “two breads” needing to be on the lunch menu — so rice AND bread, for instance.

      Way to fatten up tiny tots. Just ridiculous.

    • Alicia Says:

      These guidelines also extend to the elderly. Government senior citizen programs (Adult Day Cares) feed the seniors in the same way and the same crap. While their Medicare takes care of keeping them on a load of pharmaceuticals. It’s disgusting!

      • Sarah Henry Says:

        Seems like the government wants to serve up slop at either end of the age spectrum. Thanks for the reminder, Alicia, that it’s not just the younger generation who aren’t well fed through federal programs.

  2. Kris Says:

    The show is a little more canned than I like, but reality TV seems to be what America thrives on. If this show – canned or not – can bring a little more awareness to the general public, then I’m all for it. Personally, I was shocked at the USDA requirements for school lunches, so I learned something, too!

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Kris, I know what you mean about the USDA nonsense. All that stuff about “two breads” needing to be on the lunch menu — so rice AND bread, for instance.

      Way to fatten up tiny tots. Just ridiculous.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Kris, I know what you mean about the USDA nonsense. All that stuff about “two breads” needing to be on the lunch menu — so rice AND bread, for instance.

      Way to fatten up tiny tots. Just ridiculous.

  3. Michelle (What's Cooking) Says:

    I love what he is trying to do. And I believe that he is fortunate to have the resources of a reality show in which to draw some attention to the cause. It’s working – people are talking about it and are paying attention. The show makes me sad, but I feel good that I am working hard with a team of parents in our community to make positive change here. We have been meeting with our school district staff and are working on our own revolution…It is a more realistic approach (given that we aren’t famous), and I hope that we can inspire other communities to give it a try, too. http://whatscookingblog.com/2010/03/27/school-lunch-reform-2nd-meeting/

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Kudos to you, Michelle, for making a difference at the local level.

      And don’t forget to let Food Revolution know about what you’re doing in your community. Maybe you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame on the school food front!

  4. Michelle (What's Cooking) Says:

    I love what he is trying to do. And I believe that he is fortunate to have the resources of a reality show in which to draw some attention to the cause. It’s working – people are talking about it and are paying attention. The show makes me sad, but I feel good that I am working hard with a team of parents in our community to make positive change here. We have been meeting with our school district staff and are working on our own revolution…It is a more realistic approach (given that we aren’t famous), and I hope that we can inspire other communities to give it a try, too. http://whatscookingblog.com/2010/03/27/school-lunch-reform-2nd-meeting/

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Way to go, Michelle. And don’t forget to tell the folks @ Food Revolution about your homegrown program…maybe you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame! (Not that’s why you’re doing this, I know. You’ve been an advocate for nutritious food for kids for quite some time.)

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Way to go, Michelle. And don’t forget to tell the folks @ Food Revolution about your homegrown program…maybe you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame! (Not that’s why you’re doing this, I know. You’ve been an advocate for nutritious food for kids for quite some time.)

  5. Alexandra Says:

    I say, whatever it takes!! I just wish some famous Brits would focus attention on the synthetic chemicals that are everywhere in our environment here in the USA. Knowledge is power.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      That’s your challenge, Alexandra. Can you think of a cute, telegenic English lad or lassie to take on the petrochemical polluters? Hmmm…how about Jude Law?

  6. Alexandra Says:

    I say, whatever it takes!! I just wish some famous Brits would focus attention on the synthetic chemicals that are everywhere in our environment here in the USA. Knowledge is power.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Hi Alexandra, Can you think of a UK celeb who may take on the chemical challenge? You may well be on to something here.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Hi Alexandra, Can you think of a UK celeb who may take on the chemical challenge? You may well be on to something here.

  7. MarthaandMe Says:

    At the very least it is getting people to pay attention to the junk that is served in schools and hopefully that will bring about change.

  8. MarthaandMe Says:

    At the very least it is getting people to pay attention to the junk that is served in schools and hopefully that will bring about change.

  9. Glenland Ladybird Says:

    I work in the so-called “hard to reach” schools in the UK where the Jamie O effect has been/is amazing. Jamie has made cooking cool, even in a baseball cap. Sadly, and I wish that it wasn’t like this, celebrity TV has the ability to draw public interest towards issues that many of us have been banging on about for years. Bravo Jamie.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Welcome Glenland Ladybird,

      So great to get a real, live, and positive report from the field about the impact Jamie Oliver has had in UK schools.

      And bravo to you — and hundreds like you here and there — for banging on about the dire need for better school food for years!

  10. Glenland Ladybird Says:

    I work in the so-called “hard to reach” schools in the UK where the Jamie O effect has been/is amazing. Jamie has made cooking cool, even in a baseball cap. Sadly, and I wish that it wasn’t like this, celebrity TV has the ability to draw public interest towards issues that many of us have been banging on about for years. Bravo Jamie.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Nice to hear a real report from the field, and such a promising one, so thanks for your comment, Glenland Ladybird.

      And bravo to you, and hundreds of others like you here and there, for banging on about healthy school food for years.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Nice to hear a real report from the field, and such a promising one, so thanks for your comment, Glenland Ladybird.

      And bravo to you, and hundreds of others like you here and there, for banging on about healthy school food for years.

  11. Cheryl Says:

    The more people that talk about these issues the better, and if Jamie and Oprah want to jump on the bandwagon and spearhead a publicity campaign for what little people like you and I are fighting for in our own communities, I’m all for it. People in my town won’t necessarily listen to me, but they’ll listen to Oprah, and Jamie and Ryan Seacrest have Oprah talking about these issues to millions.

    It’s all good!

  12. Sheryl Says:

    He may not win the battle of the bulge, but at least there will be children who will be able to tell a tomato from an apple and an artichoke from an eggplant!

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Exactly, Sheryl. Wasn’t that mind-blowing? Those cute kids had no idea what all those luscious veggies were.

      And credit to the classroom teachers who took it upon themselves to educate the kids about produce, once they were aware the kids didn’t have a clue.

  13. robin Says:

    As Brangelina and Sean Penn have shown, the only good use for celebrity is to focus the limelight on something people would otherwise ignore. At least Jamie is a food guy, with a down to earth way of looking at food.

    Americans in general think Brits have a cute accent, and the sad truth of the low-education diners he is trying to help is that they probably have no associations between Brits and our war for independence.

    Celebrity and cameras trump all!

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Don’t forget George Clooney! And, yes, Jamie Oliver does deserve kudos for using his food fame for the greater good. He could be swanning around all day eating bon bons but that’s not his style.

  14. Chou Says:

    It’s interesting that a foreign chef decided to do this, or that a foreign chef was chosen to do this. However, we have a long history of looking elsewhere for culinary guidance, so this could be seen as just another step along the way.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Hi Chou,

      I agree that it’s intriguing that an outsider stepped up to do this. But then I guess it’s organic for Oliver, who is building on his success at home.

  15. Susan Says:

    Here’s what *I* know: Jamie Oliver is adorable! I’d enjoy his show even if it were about nuclear fission (that accent! that handsome face!). The fact that he’s a chef makes it that much more attractive.

    I don’t have a TV, though, so I haven’t tuned in just yet. I’m all for good nutrition, so whoever can get those kids eating fresh veggies is a hero in my book.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Those of us from Commonwealth nations are well aware that Americans are charmed when we open our mouths:)

      No worries re no TV: You can watch your handsome hero on Hulu.

  16. Ruth Pennebaker Says:

    Maybe he’ll shed more heat than light, but what the heck. It’s in much better taste and for a worthier cause than the usual reality show drivel.

  17. Nani Steele Says:

    I haven’t seen it yet, though do think he’s quite cute and love his ridiculous but fun jabbing lingo (even if it is patronizing). My uncle who lives in London adores him and his show–all very matter of fact, slinging this and that, and so forth. Old fashioned, perhaps–and in what my uncle would say, “just getting on with it!”

    I do think that the whole nutrition thing in schools is way out of whack, but seriously it’s a bigger issue than teaching kids what to eat–look what the schools are required to buy. Long ago I asked the ASFS list serve, why they thought Alice Waters wasn’t able to do what he was able to do in England, and a lot of it came down to his personality and TV presence, so Cheryl is spot on there.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Nani, I think you’re right about the personality and presence part.

      I’m curious because to date I haven’t heard any of the big school food players here come out in a very public way in support of what Jamie Oliver is doing right now in his reality TV show.

      I wonder what that’s about…???

  18. Glenland Ladybird Says:

    I work in the so called “hard to reach” schools in the UK where the Jamie O effect has been/is amazing. Jamie has made cooking cool, even in a baseball cap. Sadly, and I wish that it wasn’t like this, celebrity TV has the ability to draw public interest towards issues that many of us have been banging on about for years. Bravo Jamie.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Welcome Glenland Ladybird,

      So great to get a real, live, and positive report from the field about the impact Jamie Oliver has had in UK schools.

      And bravo to you — and hundreds like you here and there — for banging on about the dire need for better school food for years!

  19. Michelle (What's Cooking) Says:

    I love what he is trying to do. And I believe that he is fortunate to have the resources of a reality show from which to draw some attention to the cause. It’s working — people are talking about it and paying attention.

    The show makes me sad, but I feel good about my personal attempts with a team of parents in our community to make positive change. We have been meeting with our school district staff and are working on our own revolution…It is a more realistic approach (given we aren’t famous) and I hope that we can inspire other communities to give it a try, too. http://whatscookingblog.com/2010/03/27/school-lunch-reform-2nd-meeting/

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Kudos to you, Michelle, for making a difference at the local level.

      And don’t forget to let Food Revolution know about what you’re doing in your community. Maybe you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame on the school food front!

  20. All Child's Play Says:

    If nothing else, he’s bringing lots of attention to the issue. Most parents have no idea what their kids are eating for lunch at school. Jamie may bring enough of an uprising amongst parents to put pressure on legislators to make change.

    I was surprised to find out what items fit the bill for..oh let’s say vegetables. Yes, potatoes are vegetables but do most parents realize that French fries are being served on a regular basis to fill the vegetable category? I think not.

    Food Revolution will hopefully cause more parents to stand up and revolt against the current school lunch guidelines.

    P.S.: I love your style of writing. You really have a knack for it.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Why thank you, All Child’s Play. I’ve sort of been at this writing thing for 20-plus years but it’s nice to know someone new (to me) thinks I have a knack for it.

      Good point, too, regarding most parents being clueless about what their kids get force fed at lunch. Not to mention those screwy USDA rules. How about that ridiculous TWO BREADS biz? As J.O. rightly points out for the cameras, no kid needs to eat whole grain rice AND another starch for lunch. Way to encourage kids to pack on the pounds — and skip over other nutritionally necessary foods.

      Here’s to a parent uprising and a school food revolution — and health care for all while we’re at it!

  21. Sarah Henry Says:

    Why thank you, All Child’s Play. I’ve sort of been at this writing thing for 20-plus years but it’s nice to know someone new (to me) thinks I have a knack for it.

    Good point, too, regarding most parents being clueless about what their kids get force fed at lunch. Not to mention those screwy USDA rules. How about that ridiculous TWO BREADS biz? As J.O. rightly points out for the cameras, no kid needs to eat whole grain rice AND another starch for lunch. Way to encourage kids to pack on the pounds — and skip over other nutritionally necessary foods.

    Here’s to a parent uprising and a school food revolution — and health care for all while we’re at it!

  22. Alexandra Says:

    I say, whatever it takes! I just wish some famous Brits would focus attention on the synthetic chemicals that are everywhere in our environment here in the USA.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      That’s your challenge, Alexandra. Can you think of a cute, telegenic English lad or lassie to take on the petrochemical polluters? Hmmm…how about Jude Law?

  23. Almost Slowfood Says:

    I think his goals are admirable and anyone who goes beyond him or herself to try to help others is doing something wonderful. I don’t know that he’ll make a huge difference, but another person getting the word out and trying to change the way we eat is so important.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Yes, Almost Slowfood, you’re right to point out — as have many others — that it is wonderful someone of this stature is getting the word out to a wide audience.

  24. Frugal Kiwi Says:

    I doubt we’ll be seeing this down in NZ, but what’s not to like about emphasising good food over processed food science items?

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Why don’t you think this could happen in New Zealand, Frugal Kiwi? Stephanie Alexander is leading the charge in Oz.

  25. The Writer's [Inner] Journey Says:

    I’ve never seen the show but your post made me realize that there are a never-ending number of topics that someone can make a reality show from. This won’t be the last.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      I think food rather lends itself to reality TV…the question is when will the subject feel over done or is there an endless appetite for this fodder?

  26. Is A “Food Revolution” In Our Children’s Future | All Child's Play Says:

    [...] U.S. to tell us how to eat and how we need to change our school lunch programs.  Check out what LettuceEatKale has to say about his invasion into the United States [...]

  27. Jill O'Connor Says:

    Jamie Oliver is hard to resist in all his cuddly, baby-voiced earnestness, but we Americans aren’t alone in out love affair with junk food–I have indulged in my share of Doner Kebabs, greasy curries and other hallmarks of the British diet while visiting England. They might be the #1 fast food nation if England wasn’t the size of Maine. And as my husband says “they drink enough to alter their DNA.” That said, I found Jamie Oliver to be sweet, not judgmental in his attempt to better not just school lunches, but the overall diets of the people in this WV community. It’s still a reality show, so we’ll see. Besides, every kid should know what an eggplant is!

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Spot on, Jill, and you’ll get no grief from Jamie O re your assessment of what many people in England put on their plates and in their mouths.

      I think so many people respond to the Naked Chef’s genuine desire to do good, without, as you say, doling out judgments.

  28. Jennifer Margulis Says:

    I don’t have a TV and I’ve never seen a reality show so, shocking as it sounds, I don’t really have an opinion about this one!

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Jennifer, I know it’s been a rough week (you have my sympathy my dear) but not having a TV is no excuse for missing out on the wonders of reality television.

      You have a computer, right? So Hulu is the answer. Just Google it, you’ll see. Then you can watch Jamie O in action, if you care to see what all the fuss is about.

  29. Mrs. Q Says:

    I love what Jamie Oliver is doing. He’s not perfect, but he’s putting it on the line (literally — the lunch line) for the health of school children. School lunch is many kids’ best meal of the day.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Hello Mrs. Q and welcome to LEK.

      Such an important point you raise — that for many kids school lunch is the best shot they have of getting a decent feed for the day.

      And you’re in a good position to know that, since you’re the voice behind the brilliant blog: http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com

      Readers, if you haven’t been to Mrs. Q’s site yet do stop by. She’s a school teacher in the Midwest taking a stand on school lunch by eating what the kids eat every day — and documenting it in words and pics (some of them frightening) for all the world to see.

      Bravo!

  30. Civil Eats » Blog Archive » What’s On Your Plate? Food for Thought for All Ages Says:

    [...] we’re on the subject of kids, school, and food this week, here’s a shout out for a film I’m going to have to find room for on my top ten food [...]

  31. Melissa Graham Says:

    Sarah,

    This is a terrific post and one that sheds light on multiple problems with American society.

    Let me start by saying this. I admire Jamie Oliver. I see him as UK version of Chicago’s own Rick Bayless. He’s a decent guy who has chosen to leverage his celebrity for good. I haven’t seen the show yet, but I did watch his Ted award acceptance speech, which I found compelling and visual. I also appreciate his work with Fifteen in the UK and, like Bayless, I believe him to be the real deal.

    So it’s great that he’s chosen to shed light on America’s growing obesity problem. Inadvertently, it also highlights our society’s unhealthy obsession with celebrity.

    It’s terrific that Debra Eschmeyer highlighted “Food Revolution”’s lack of attention paid to existing organizations working tirelessly in this area. Being the head of one, I appreciate this greatly. However, I deleted the request to highlight our work on Food Revolution after I read the requirements for consideration. We were requested to prepare a video that portrayed our work that was filmed in HD. Seriously? My video camera is 10 years old so I’d have to call in favors to get this done. As a non-profit, I call in lots of favors for funding our programs so this was a tough one, but not impossible. I read further. On this HD film, we needed to describe our programming. Fine, no problem – I do that every day with funders, press, members, etc. Then, I needed to explain what Jamie’s work meant to me and the impact that I thought that Food Revolution was having. Seriously?!!

    We see it again and again. The press highlights the wrong things – the drama, the bad events. And for someone doing good things (and as a volunteer mind you), I find it frustrating and a bid demoralizing. And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Here are two examples:

    No. 1: Recently, as an organization, we hosted a gathering of 30 companies (for and non-profit) working in Chicago schools: an event that presented opportunities for collaboration and networking. It went off beautifully and has created a coalition of Chicago organizations that will give us power in numbers. Upon request, we sent a nationally recognized Chicago journalist known for pieces in the arena of child nutrition information an invite to this event. No response. No fricking response. The paper would rather report on the dramas, the problems – why talk about solutions? Fortunately, the smaller, local press has taken up the charge on the positive changes that are happening everywhere.

    No. 2: Anyone else have an issue with the national attention being given to Fed Up http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com/? Anyone else a little tired of the ingénue attitude of the anonymous Mrs. Q? Do we really think that she’s going to turn down the inevitable book deal that will result? Perhaps, if she really cared about the health of her students, she’d be out there advocating in the open. A week, a month of pictures and descriptions was enough – a year, a gimmick. Please.

    Even Mrs. Obama, whom I admire tremendously, celebrates celebrity over hard work (not to say that the celebrity chefs aren’t working hard). Do we really need celebrity chefs at the national egg roll? How about asking under-recognized non-profits, who know what it’s like to demonstrate healthy recipes in cafeterias with no stoves, even libraries and classrooms.

    To succeed in this effort requires a collaborative effort buy in from doctors, nurses, parents, non-profits, lunch ladies, students, farmers and we need to celebrate everyone working in this area as opposed to making this a personal pitched battle between one celebrity and one country.

    So, if anyone wants my 2 cents, which is more than I get paid to advocate for good kids food, Jamie Oliver should set up a website that includes a listing of EVERY organization working in the area of childhood nutrition in schools in this country. They’ve got the money, they’ve got the resources, and they’ve given the people the impetus to change, now give them real resources to affect that change.

  32. Sarah Henry Says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for weighing in — and at such length! Good to know about the requirements for the “Food Revolution” submissions, which, as you point out, could exclude a lot of good folk.

    I do take issue, however, with your characterization of Mrs. Q. Call me naive, I think she’s doing what she says she set out to do — bringing attention to what’s on the trays for lunch at her school. I really do think she cares about the health of her kids.

    I like your suggestion for the Food Revolution team. Why not get in touch and suggest they do just that?

  33. Mrs. Q Says:

    Ouch Melissa! I think it’s best to welcome all voices to the discussion of school lunches as moving us all forward to our collective goal of helping children eat better at school. In-fighting will not get us anywhere.

    As far as my project being a “gimmick” and everything else you wrote above, it’s another reminder as to why I am anonymous! Thanks for reinforcing why I am not putting my real identity out there.

    If you are tired of my “ingenue” I suggest you stop reading. The honest truth is that I wanted to make a BHAG – a big, hairy audacious goal for 2010. I wanted to see if I could really do this for a year. I am not an expert in nutrition. That’s why I’ve invited guest bloggers from all different POV’s to blog. Juju Chang called me an “accidental blogger” and if that is what you are referring to when you say “ingenue,” well you are right. This is all new to me.

    I’m sorry that you didn’t get the coverage you wanted for that event in Chicago. That really is a shame.

    Best of luck to you,
    Mrs. Q

  34. Melissa Graham Says:

    Mrs. Q,

    I do apologize. In rereading my post, I was more than a bit peevish in my description of what you’re doing, which was a misdirection of my frustration. I will note that when you put yourself out the way that you have, anonymous or not, on the Internet, you have to expect that there will be people who will disagree with you. Having read your blog and comments on a couple of occasions, I know that I’m not the first person to make the point that I did. I understand how much time it takes to maintain a blog, manage the comments and field interviews, and, personally, I wonder whether you could be spending that time creating a wellness committee for your school, advocating out in the open for better food for your students, or seeking out nutritional and fitness programs for your school. I’m not going to suggest that this isn’t time consuming and often frustrating. I left a partnership with a major law firm to start my non-profit five years ago. I work harder now for no pay and an equal amount of frustration. On most days, when I see the impact that we have on Chicago’s kids and families, I realize why it’s all worth it.

    My frustration is not so much with you but with the press. I understand that the press wants controversy to sell papers: good news doesn’t help their bottom line. We’ve gotten our fair share of press so I can’t complain about that, but you yourself have to question why the national news media has made you such a darling when there are school nurses, gym teachers, nutritionists, grassroots leaders, working tirelessly for this cause who are routinely ignored by the media.

    And as to our event, my complaint was not a lack of press – we weren’t really seeking it. My problem was that this particular journalist specifically requested an invitation to it and then failed to even respond when it was issued. It’s just again a demonstration of the media’s disinterest in covering solutions, but instead fomenting drama.

    So I ask for a truce. I was wrong to question your motives due to some misdirected frustration.

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Glad you two got that sorted and let’s call a truce all round.

      I’m a blogger, Melissa, but I’m also a member of the press. I’ve been a journalist for more than two decades, most recently as a freelance writer. But I spent a decade at a non-profit news organization with a social justice bent.

      While I’ve covered my share of celebrities, I’ve spent the majority of my career writing about the kind of people you describe, folks in the trenches trying to make a difference.

      It’s not always easy to place these pieces, as you point out, but I think it’s worth trying. If you surf around this site, you’ll find plenty of examples of such stories.

      Okay, to try to bring this conversation back full circle:

      Did anyone watch Food Revolution last night? I must confess those high school kids brought tears to my eyes.

  35. MyKidsEatSquid Says:

    I haven’t seen the show yet, but I definitely support what Jamie is doing. I try to pack a reasonably healthy lunch for my kids.

    I find it’s even more difficult in middle school than elementary to combat the high-fat options the school often has on hand (so high school must be even worse!). At middle school the kids can have french fries and/or pizza every day if they want to. And that’s an endless supply of french fries (apparently you can go back for seconds).

    At this point, instead of relying on the school to do something about a healthier lunch, I’m trying to pack lunches that are interesting and fun for my middle schooler so that the french fries look bland by comparison. Luckily, with the kids my daughter hangs out with it’s “cool” to bring in interesting lunch meals like sushi, soups. But my guess is she grabs a fry or two from her friends that buy…

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Good to hear from a parent of an older child, so thanks for adding your two cents, MKES.

      And so timely. I was horrified by all the french fries on offer on episode 3 of Food Revolution, which focuses on what high school kids eat at lunch. And fries count as all or part of the USDA required 1 and 1/4 cup of veg. Yikes!

      As Jamie O himself notes, nobody is arguing that french fries aren’t delicious. They are. But they’re also a treat and shouldn’t be an every day dietary occurrence.

  36. Civil Eats » Blog Archive » Seven Reasons Why the Time is Ripe for School Lunch Reform Says:

    [...] Critics: People like Jamie Oliver, who bopped across The Pond to shake up the school lunch menu in West Virginia, and the anonymous [...]

  37. amy Says:

    Just had a conversation about this with a non-foodie friend over the weekend. The kids at her daughter’s school in SoCal eat little but carbs all day and for some of them it is all or essentially all of the food they get each day. Almost made me grateful that school lunch is not an option at my daughter’s school.

    For those who have not read it yet, I highly suggest taking a look at Free for All. Full disclaimer, I am the book’s publicist. But, that said, it gives a great overview of a frequently confusing topic.

  38. Maria Says:

    Any awareness of what’s in our food supply is a good thing. Next, I do hope they bring more light on the additives and colorings that are currently banned in Europe and Canada, if not proven safe by strict food safety standards.

    Europe also requires labeling on GMO crops used in food production and that is not happening here. The beauty of Europe and Canada is that their governments are not as influenced by the money of the food industry on Capital Hill.

    Due to my daughter’s allergies, we’ll have no choice but to pack her own food everyday, if she can even step into the cafeteria in the first place. More fresh food from scratch on our school lunch menus will only help make her cafeteria a safer place. Thank you!

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Hi Maria, Good to get your points in the mix. Additives, colorings, GMO-modified foods, you’re right to note they’re all a part of a lot of school lunches.

  39. Joan Bailey Says:

    I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve been following the discussion of it and the school lunch program funding. Grist.org has had a great series of articles about horrendous school lunches as well as schools working their way around a system that supports poor nutrition. It’s been fascinating. Particularly disturbing is seeing a photo of a current school lunch and realizing that’s what I ate as a kid, and didn’t think twice about it.

    It’s great that Oliver is out there doing this, and that attention is being drawn to the problem. I also think there is coverage of possible solutions, which I find most fascinating. It seems tremendously difficult for schools to find growers and producers in their own communities, and to be able to afford to do so. That it is so difficult and expensive, and that there is little federal support for such a logical choice in food supply is mind-boggling. An easy way to reinvigorate many a local economy, particularly for rural areas, and incite community pride would be to support local growers and producers.

    I say thank heavens for Jamie Oliver, Mrs. Q, and the rest who draw attention to these issues, work on them every day whether we know about them or not, and keep their eye on the ball.

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